I’m not really sure why this picture of a Volkswagen Passat four-door fastback sedan caught my attention, other than that it’s a version of one of those cars that most of us completely forgot about and a namplate that, as of this year, is no longer available in America. The Passat ended with more of a whimper than a bang, but for whatever reason, I feel like looking back at a few of these, in whatever names they called them.
It’s easy to forget, but in America, this was Volkswagen’s first liquid-cooled car sold, a radical departure from the air-cooled, rear-engined VWs everyone knew. These made it to market before the Golf/Rabbit, even if they weren’t nearly as popular. And sure, VW had a liquid-cooled car before this, the K70, but that was an NSU design that never came to America, and they never built that many, anyway.
But the Passat was VW’s first hint that the company was changing, a front-engined, angular design from ItalDesign that looked nothing like any sort of insect. It was the start of how VW gradually became modern NSU/DKW/Auto Union, which is really what they are today.
Of course, in America, for some reason they called the Passat the Dasher, which is actually a pretty good name, and these were pitched as “luxury” VWs, which, compared to the old Beetles and stuff, they were:
VW was weird about the name for this car in America. They later changed it, in the 1980s, to the “Quantum” partially because of the Audi-derived five-cylinder engines available:
I always liked the Passat that first carried that name in America, the B3, mostly because of what I thought was a very cool grille-less design, especially in wagon form:
VW’a own press materials are less kind to it, though. Look at what their own media site says about this generation (emphasis mine):
Passat B3 (1990-1994)
The first Passat to be built off a Volkswagen, as opposed to Audi platform, this was also the first model to be marketed as “Passat” in the U.S. It was based off a stretched Golf platform, with a transverse front-engine layout; it was also engineered to accept Volkswagen’s own Syncro all-wheel-drive system. It was sold only as a four-door sedan and a wagon, with slightly bland styling dictated by aerodynamics—there was no grille at the front, just a large VW badge. The U.S.-market Passat had a standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 134 horsepower; from 1992, the 2.8-liter VR6® engine making 172 hp was available, giving the car a significant performance bump.
It was daring! Not bland! It got bland when they chickened out and added a grille back, like candy-asses.
Also, the grille-less design reminded me of the Passat’s air-cooled predecessor in the lux-VW category, the Type 4:
Anyway, when was the last time you saw a Passat fastback sedan? I can’t remember, even. Or even more rare, the three-door one:
With those black rubbery spoilers at the back! These were kinda cool. You’re more likely to see a sasquatch driving a Lotus 7, though.